Amnesty underway in Sudan: First political prisoners freed

First step towards broad political dialogue

Sudanese authorities released six political prisoners early on Tuesday, a photographer reported, after President Omar al-Bashir vowed to free all political detainees.
The six men walked free to the embrace of relatives waiting outside Kober Prison in Khartoum North.
Among those released were Hisham Mufti and Abdul Aziz Khalid, opposition party members held for almost three months.
Amnesty International said they and four other opposition figures were arrested in January as a suspected "reprisal" for their parties' involvement with a conference in Uganda in January.
The conference led to a charter for toppling Bashir's 24-year regime using both armed and peaceful means.
Farouk Abu Issa, who heads the opposition alliance of more than 20 parties, could not immediately be reached for comment.
The US-based Human Rights Watch had called in February for the detained opposition party members to be charged or freed.
Mashood Adebayo Baderin, the UN's independent expert on human rights in Sudan, also expressed concern about the "detention of political opposition figures and other individuals" by the national security service.
In a speech opening a new session of parliament on Monday, Bashir said all political prisoners would be let go as the government seeks a broad political dialogue, a move welcomed by the opposition as tensions ease with South Sudan.
"We confirm we will continue our communication with all political and social powers without excluding anyone, including those who are armed, for a national dialogue which will bring a solution to all the issues," the president said.
But opposition members are waiting to see whether prisoners belonging to the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North will be among those set free.
The SPLM-N has been fighting government forces for almost two years in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states and had been demanding a prisoner release, according to the political opposition.
Farouk Mohammed Ibrahim, of the Sudanese Organisation for Defence of Rights and Freedoms, said there are "a large number" of detainees in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. These include 118 SPLM-N prisoners whose cases are being handled by his organisation in southern Blue Nile alone.
Ibrahim said on Tuesday that it is not yet clear whether those 118 will be included in the amnesty.
"No SPLM-N has been released," rebel chairman Malik Agar said in a written message on Tuesday.
He earlier said he was not sure which political prisoners Bashir was referring to.
A diplomatic source late Monday called Bashir's statements positive but said it is too early to know where they are leading.
"We should wait until we see clear results," said the source, asking for anonymity. "Action is what counts here in Sudan."
Bashir's speech elaborated on an offer made last week by Vice President Ali Osman Taha, who reached out to the SPLM-N and opposition political parties, whom he invited to join a constitutional dialogue.
Sudan needs a new constitution to replace the 2005 document based on a peace agreement which ended a 23-year civil war and led to South Sudan's separation in July 2011.
Bashir's regime had long rejected negotiations with the insurgents which it alleged were backed by South Sudan.
A potential way forward emerged after the two countries in early March finally settled on detailed timetables to implement crucial economic and security pacts to ease tensions.